Fairfield University breaks ground on first campus garden



Image: GardenFairfield University's sustainability movement took another step forward recently when ground was broken on the campus's very first vegetable and herb garden.

An educational project for environmental studies and biology students, its harvest will turn up on student dining hall menus this fall and stock the shelves of area food pantries this summer. Faculty, students, staff and alumni are tending the garden, where food will be grown much of the year. Situated on a hill near the Dolan School of Business, it includes 18 raised beds where root vegetables, perennial herbs, hot and sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, and pumpkins, among other vegetables, are being planted.

"This garden is not only a project in sustainability, but in education," said Dana August '11, co-director of projects for Leaders of Environmental Awareness at Fairfield (LEAF), a student group.

"It is amazing to see how the sustainability movement on campus has infinitely increased since I started at Fairfield three years ago," added the San Diego native who initiated the project. "I am so glad that I am apart of something that will continue to be a part of the university community for years to come."

Part of the garden has been dedicated to Harvest Now, a hunger relief program that supplies area food pantries.

Most of the food will go to the dining hall when the students are back in the fall.

"We're focusing on things we can harvest in the fall, such as winter squash," said Jennifer L. Klug, Ph.D., associate professor of biology. "On Thursday nights, we plan to have 'Garden Night' when food that is grown in the garden is featured on the menu. Obviously, we can't supply the food for the entire menu but we can supply some items like butternut squash to make soup."

The garden project has other goals.

Faculty are hoping to inform students about seasonal food, teach about the environmental impracticalities of eating certain things in winter, and introduce them to new food choices, such as kale. "Although it may not be a more popular leafy green, it is something that grows very well all year - and I hear it is especially tasty after the first frost," August said.

James Fitzpatrick, assistant vice president of student affairs, said that Dr. Klug and Tod Osier, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, in essence have helped create a new lab outside of the Bannow Science Center that will have an academic and culinary impact on the campus for years to come. "The beauty of the campus garden is that it is a prime example of living and learning outside the classroom."

While he banged nails to make the garden beds, Dr. Osier shared that he plans to utilize the garden as a tool for students to study the management of soil, nutrients and weeds. "We have a number of practical questions related to managing the garden that need answers," said Dr. Osier, who has a Ph.D. in entomology from the University of Wisconsin, which has a lot of applications for growing crops. "Student researchers under my direction can do studies and gain valuable experience in the course of those activities."

Another goal is to have residents of the new Environmental Living and Learning community care for the garden. (Sophomores interested in walking the talk of an eco-friendly life will live in the community, located in a nearby dorm.)

"We would like students to learn how to grow their own food and realize the pleasure that comes from gardening," said Dr. Klug, who noted that the administration has been very supportive of establishing the garden. "We also want to make people aware of where their food is coming from, a very important subject these days."

It's been a campus-wide team project, with the buildings & grounds staff helping to prepare and supply materials to the site. Ring's End donated wood for the garden beds.

"It is incredibly exciting that this project that we started working on in fall of last year has actually become a reality, mostly thanks to the excellent connection between interested students, faculty, and administrators," August said.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on June 28, 2010

Vol. 42, No. 318